In the Hannibal Lecter series, investigator Will Graham exerts his psychoanalytic expertise and his emotional empathy to ‘get inside’ the heads of murderers and monsters. In an entirely matter of fact way, author Matthew Franks takes that premise one step further and gives his protagonist, Max Crawford, the ability to read people’s thoughts in the right circumstances, and to walk in their dreams.
Normally, Max uses his unusual talent during an unconventional form of consenting therapy, to help criminals get to grips with a guilty conscience, maybe revisit and revise a pivotal life event. This time, however, the FBI want him to do something much more risky – enter the mind of a suspected serial killer and seek out the evidence so they can secure a conviction.
This is an engaging and innovative concept, delivered with just enough psychological terminology to make it seem scientifically solid. While it doesn’t seem entirely likely that an undercover ‘specialist’ might really be able to sneak around jail corridors and spend hours dozing outside the cell of an arraigned suspect awaiting trial, the dream sequences in which Max does his investigative stuff keep the plot bowling along.
At first it’s hard to credit that the suspect, a mannerly college professor, could possibly be involved, but gradually things take a more sinister turn. As Max only has limited time inside his dreaming subject’s mind, and as he’s only a passenger in the proceedings, this gives the story a tantalising urgency. It’s a whole new angle on the traditional investigation, in which the clues are pieced together from interviews and evidence. This time, the investigator must nudge the subject’s subconscious into revealing the truth. But do these dreams really represent reality?
If anything, the dream episodes are a little too orderly. They seem rather more coherent than my own excursions into a slumbering REM state. I’m also not sure that anyone dreams so much and so swiftly after falling asleep as shown here; a little more on the science of sleep and the different states of arousal / rest would’ve added credibility to the tale. Max’s ability is presented as an extra sense, nothing supernatural or weird, so a bit more background could’ve give it more credibility without slowing the storyline.
I also wasn’t sure that the dramatic personal twist subplot was truly necessary – there was plenty of action in the final chapters, and one last revelation could’ve been left as a hint, maybe to be explored in future. It felt like one epilogue too many; the final chocolate which should’ve been left in the box.
That aside, Matthew Franks writes easily accessible English which doesn’t get between the reader and the story. He’s pulled an intriguing idea out of the air and woven it into an unusual and involving criminal investigation. I’ll definitely check out more of his work in future.
Reviewed by Rowena Hoseason
The Monster Underneath by Matthew Franks is available as an ebook or paperback